Contractors Install First Cooling Unit Paid for by the Portland Clean Energy Fund

One small step for an embattled agency with a lot of money.

After months of drama, contractors for the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund installed the first cooling unit in the home of a needy Portlander yesterday.

A team from Earth Advantage and the African American Alliance for Homeownership connected the unit, PCEF said, the first of 15,000 heat pumps to be installed in Portland in the next five years. The installation comes almost one year after a freakish June heat wave sent Portland temperatures soaring to a record-smashing 116 degrees.

“The community partners and our staff at Earth Advantage have all been working tirelessly to get units ordered, installers trained, and units installed as quickly as possible to save lives during this summer’s heat waves,” Pilar Calderin, Earth Advantage’s climate justice program manager, said in a statement.

The installation comes after a series of setbacks for PCEF, the multimillion-dollar cache of cash that’s funded by a surcharge on retailers with annual sales of $1 billion or more in the U.S. and $500,000 or more within Portland. Grants are awarded by a nine-member committee and must be approved by the Portland City Council.

PCEF requested bids for the heat-response project after last year’s heat wave. A firm called Diversifying Energy won an $11.5 million contract to procure and distribute the heat pumps, but the City Council canceled the agreement after The Oregonian reported that founder Linda Woodley had a history of defrauding energy companies and had failed to pay taxes in three states.

Woodley said she had hidden nothing about her past from PCEF. She sued the fund in federal court in March, alleging that PCEF had defamed her and denied her due process.

That same month, City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero reported that PCEF was awash in money but had not adopted methods to track, measure and report its performance, as required by the 2018 ballot measure that created it.

City officials had expected PCEF to have annual revenue of $44 million to $61 million. Actual revenue hit $63 million in the year ending June 30, 2020, and soared to $116 million the next fiscal year. Days after the audit, Andrea Durbin, director of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which oversees PCEF, resigned to spend more time with her family.

PCEF leaders had hoped to get many of the heat pumps installed by this summer. Good thing this June is more like February in Portland than August in Phoenix.